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USA: Occidental Chairman Sues Protestors for Harassment

by Timna TannersReuters
April 4th, 2000

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LOS ANGELES -- The chairman of Occidental Petroleum is staging his own protest against the human rights groups who picket his home and office -- he is suing them for harassment and wants a court to grant him damages.

Groups including Rainforest Action Network, Action Resource Center and Amazon Watch have picketed outside chairman Ray Irani's home -- sometimes in the early morning hours -- to protest Occidental's plans to drill for oil on the ancestral home of the U'Wa Indians in Colombia.

The U'Wa religion says oil drilling cuts the veins of a living, breathing Mother Earth and the tribe's 5,000 members have threatened to collectively commit suicide if Occidental drills on its land.

In a lawsuit filed at the end of January in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Irani said demonstrators picketed and marched outside his home many times from September 1999 to January, disrupting his family life.

A court in February granted him a restraining order that keeps protestors off of his property. Irani's lawyers said Tuesday that no protests had taken place since the court order but they were still pursuing legal action.

''We were gratified that the injunction was granted in part, but obviously would have preferred the whole request to have been granted,'' Irani attorney Larry Barth said. Irani's suit had asked the court to further restrict the protests to certain times of day and at a set distance from his property.

Irani also asked for unspecified damages for ''substantial emotional distress and interference with quiet enjoyment of real property rights,'' according to court papers.

In the court papers, Irani also said he received threatening letters coinciding with the protests and warning that he would ''suffer the blood of you and your fellow earth rapists'' if Occidental drills on U'Wa land.

Amazon Watch, one of the groups that organized the rallies at Irani's home, said they held quiet prayer vigils and did not loudly bang on drums as alleged in Irani's suit. ''It is a frivolous action and it's ironic that Ray Irani is trying to stop the protests around his home when he's invading the U'Wa homeland,'' said Atossa Soltani, Amazon Watch executive director.

At the U'Wa tribe's request, a Colombian court last week issued a temporary order that stops Occidental from beginning to drill on the block of land in dispute.

Occidental has said it will appeal, in its latest efforts to begin drilling after it was awarded exploratory rights in 1992.

Protests against Occidental have included demonstrations at Occidental's annual meetings in 1997, 1998 and 1999.

In addition, protest rallies have been staged at the offices of major Occidental shareholder Fidelity Investments.

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